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What is Burnout?

What is burnout? How do you treat burnout?

Burnout is the result of ongoing physical and emotional exhaustion from work environments that are stressful. Let’s start with a list of symptoms that are associated with burnout:

  1. Often feeling “keyed up”, or like you might lose control over your emotions at any moment

  2. A loss of interest in activities you typically enjoy

  3. An inability to get work out of your head

  4. Insomnia or fatigue

  5. Substance abuse

  6. Chronic pain

If this sounds like you, don’t panic. Burnout is treatable. In 2019, Burnout was added to the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), which means it is now considered a medical diagnosis. It also means that it’s now covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If you think you may be suffering from burnout, the first step would be to consider lifestyle choices that may be contributing to your burnout. Take stock of your work hours, your nutritional choices, your workout regimen, and your sleep hygiene. Do you allow yourself leisure time? Do you have regular time for socializing with friends and family?

A licensed therapist or physician can diagnose burnout, and also help identify treatment options. When someone comes into my office with burnout symptoms, I’m always initially curious about what their life looks like and those lifestyle questions that we listed above. I’m also curious about their work environment. Are the expectations for work reasonable? Are the people they work with supportive? And finally, we’ll look into how they handle stress. What are their internal processes like when things get stressful? (For example, when under pressure of a deadline, are they beating themselves up internally, or cheering themselves on?)

Believe it or not, the way we handle stressful situations is not a fixed character trait. It’s a skill (or rather, a lot of different skills); and you can improve your ability to handle stress in a healthy way over time. The first step would be to remove stress in your life that’s unnecessary. (Trim the fat, as they say.) Learning how to say “no” and avoid taking on too much is something you can learn how to do, and it takes practice. If you look over your commitments and identify some things that are stretching you too thin, consider ways to remove those from your plate.

The next step would be adding in habits and activities that support your nervous system in recharging and staying regulated. Examples you might consider include:

  • Taking the time and space to express your emotions and explore your inner world, perhaps through therapy or journaling.

  • Implementing an exercise routine that includes at least 30 minutes of cardio 3-5 times per week. You get bonus points if there is rhythm involved in your choice of exercise, because that helps integrate both sides of the brain, which is one of the keys to keeping anxiety in check. Walking, running, swimming, cycling, tai chi and aerobics all fit the bill.

  • Connecting with others in person, just for socializing. Talking with colleagues during a work meeting doesn’t count. This is purely just for fun being with people. Being with other people (who you enjoy) is a natural stress reliever. We’re social animals, and our nervous systems respond to one another and help regulate our emotions when we’re with someone who makes us feel heard and valued.

Burnout is a really common experience, and you don’t have to go through it alone. If you’re in Texas, and you’d like to explore therapy with me, reach out! I’d be happy to talk over what’s going on with you and see if we might be a fit for working together. If you’re outside of Texas or aren’t ready to explore therapy yet, you might enjoy checking out and following my Instagram page for more tips and information on mental wellness, burnout and relationships.

If you’re in a helping profession, you might also be interested in this blog I wrote about compassion fatigue and how it can impact your nervous system.

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